The statement indicates a softening from Powell's firm refusal Tuesday to apologize to China. Another sign of softening U.S. resolve: While the Pentagon initially kept three U.S. destroyers off the Chinese coast, they have since continued on their pre-assigned return voyage to the U.S. West Coast, CNSNews.com reported Tuesday.
"We regret that the Chinese plane did not get down safely, and we regret the loss of life of the pilot," Powell told reporters after a lunch meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah.
"But now we need to move on. We need to bring this to a resolution and to review every avenue available to us. We talked to the Chinese side to exchange explanations and move on."
The expression of regret came on the same day that China again asked for – and again was refused – an apology for what it claims is U.S. fault.
White House officials said U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher refused Beijing's demands for an apology in a face-to-face meeting Wednesday in Beijing with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan as the standoff moved into Day Four.
"The United States doesn't understand the reason for an apology," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The United States did nothing wrong."
Prueher met with Tang early Wednesday Washington time, Fleischer said, but the session did little to resolve the situation on Hainan Island, where 24 crew members of a downed Navy reconnaissance plane have been detained by Chinese authorities since Sunday, when a Chinese fighter collided with the Navy EP-3.
Reports from Beijing appeared to confirm a United Press International report Tuesday in which a U.S. official who had seen classified satellite photographs of the downed Navy plane said the Chinese had boarded the craft and removed equipment. The official said images from the satellites indicated that some of the EP-3's equipment was on the tarmac next to the craft.
The Chinese F-8 involved in the collision is missing, its pilot presumed dead.
"The families of the pilot are very worried," Tang said, adding Chinese leaders, government and the people were deeply concerned about the missing pilot. The Chinese have 29 ships and 37 planes searching for the pilot. President Jiang Zemin instructed that the search for the pilot, Wang Wei, should continue "at any price."
Terming China's reaction as cool and responsible, Tang, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency, said the U.S. plane broke flight rules, illegally entered Chinese airspace and landed at a Chinese airport, all of which he labeled a serious infringement on Chinese sovereignty and territory and a threat to China's national security.
He said the United States did not face up to the reality or take responsibility and had displayed an arrogant air, used lame arguments, called black white and made groundless accusations against China.
The United States is "committing repeated errors," he said.
Jiang insisted the United States "should bear all responsibilities for the consequence of the incident,'' Xinhua quoted him as saying shortly before he left China for a six-nation tour of Latin America.
China's Ministry of National Defense expressed "China's indignation and condemnation" as it blamed the crew of the Navy plane for causing the collision, said Xinhua.
"The U.S. plane made a sudden movement toward the Chinese planes," said a ministry spokesman. "The U.S. plane's nose and left wing rammed the tail of one of the Chinese planes, causing it to lose control and plunge into the sea.
"It is entirely justified and in line with international laws for Chinese fighter jets to track and monitor those U.S. planes," the spokesman added.
On Tuesday, Powell insisted the United States has nothing to apologize for. He reiterated Tuesday, in the strongest terms used by officials to date, that Washington demanded the immediate return of the Navy plane and its crew.
Powell called the continued detention of the crew unacceptable and said the United States would put increasing pressure on the Chinese until they were released.
"We did not do anything wrong. Our airplane was in international airspace. An accident took place ... there is nothing to apologize for," he said.
Commenting on reports that the Chinese have described the crew as being held in "protective custody," Powell said: "If the Chinese say they are being protected, I don't know from what."
"In my judgment, they're being detained," he added. "They're being held incommunicado, under circumstances which I don't find acceptable."
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